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Grapevine: Losing out on an Opportunity

When the Senate passed the state's highly touted incentives overhaul in late June, even the most skeptical backers might have expected it to reach Gov. Chris Christie's desk within days.

Now, there are signs it could end up being a matter of months.

A new Senate schedule released last week has its next voting session slated for Aug. 26, two months after the upper chamber approved the Economic Opportunity Act. Despite voting on the measure June 27, with amendments, the Senate quickly found the ball back in its court when the Assembly made its own last-minute changes late the following day.

The large coalition of business and development groups who support the bill have since been waiting for lawmakers to reconvene. Last week, the Senate scrapped a voting session in which it planned to consider the measure; Sen. Raymond Lesniak, one of its top sponsors, later said he first needed the Assembly to return to Trenton to negotiate the final version.

Grocers to register disapproval?

The list of groups lining up to oppose a bill to mandate labeling of foods containing genetically modified foods stretches literally from the farm to the table — indeed, from the lab to the table.

The biotech companies that develop the technologies are opposed. The farm bureau, which represents the people growing GMO crops, is opposed. So are the grocery manufacturers association, the food processors' trade group, the retail merchants association and the restaurant association.

So it's come as a surprise to some that the group that would arguably be most directly affected by the labeling mandate — the supermarket trade group called the New Jersey Food Council — has remained silent on the issue.

A source noted the council's membership includes traditional grocery stores, but also the health food giant Whole Foods, which has committed to voluntarily label foods with GMOs by 2018.

“There's obviously some internal strife” at the council, said a source, noting the labeling mandate is likely one of the biggest issues affecting the supermarket industry this legislative session.

The Food Council did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Guidance on navigation

Next month, the federal government will award $1.5 million to New Jersey organizations seeking to become “navigators” who will help individuals and families get health insurance coverage, either from Medicaid or by purchasing a health insurance policy on the online marketplace being created under the Affordable Care Act.

That's not nearly enough, say insiders.

Washington has received 11 applications from New Jersey organizations seeking a slice of that $1.5 million pie, Grapevine has learned. Health care experts around the state say much more is needed to get the word out to the uninsured, many of whom are eligible for subsidies to afford coverage, but may have cultural or language barriers to overcome. Estimates are that more than 1 million New Jerseyans are uninsured.

John Sarno, president of the Employers Association of New Jersey, confirmed the employers' group is among the applicants to the Health and Human Services navigator program. According to the group, most uninsured people are full- or part-time workers for small employers; EANJ's goal is to enroll these uninsured workers at their job sites. 

HHS is expected to award the navigator grants Aug. 15.

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Tom Bergeron at tomb@njbiz.com.

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